By David Sherfinski | @dsherfinski | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Research shows online ads by leading political conservatives talking about their concerns about climate change boosted worry about the issue among other conservative voters
* Ads feature conservative voices on climate threats
* Aim is to shift voters formerly unmoved on climate action
* Study finds jump in concern about global warming
By David Sherfinski
WASHINGTON, June 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, admits he was “ignorant” on climate change when he first got to Congress about three decades ago.
“I didn’t know anything about it except that Al Gore was for (action on) it and that was the end of the inquiry for me,” he recalled.
But today Inglis waxes poetic about how trips to Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef, as a member of the House Science Committee, helped upend his views and spur him to try to win over like-minded potential converts to action on climate change.
“Our deal is to go to conservatives and be able to speak the language of conservatism to them,” he said in an interview, calling such framing “our natural language”.
Inglis’ proposition was put to the test when researchers rolled out a month’s worth of online ads, aimed at Republican-leaning voters and featuring prominent conservatives talking about climate risks.
One spotlighted retired Air Force Gen. Ron Keys, who emphasized the number of military bases now at risk from rising sea levels driven by climate change.
Inglis, in another ad, spoke about how climate solutions don’t necessarily lead to bigger government.
A study of those 2019 ads, published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change, found they significantly boosted belief among right-leaning U.S. voters that global warming was a serious threat – a sentiment that still borders on heresy for many conservative hardliners.
The campaign raises hopes that communicators are closing in on solving a long-thorny problem: How to shift public opinion on climate change among a relatively stubborn subset of the U.S. population.
“I think the big takeaway is … that it works,” said Matthew Goldberg, the report’s lead author and an associate research scientist at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Among conservatives who saw them, the ads in one month drove a 7-percentage-point rise in belief that global warming is happening, a 10-point boost in understanding that warming is human-caused and an 11-point hike in how much importance viewers gave the issue, the study found.
Katharine Hayhoe, a prominent climate scientist who spoke in one of the study’s ads about how curbing climate change is consistent with Christian values, said the findings make clear more such carefully crafted messages are needed.
“What they’re doing is showing that it’s effective in terms of advertising on social media, that it can actually change minds in that way,” she said in an interview. “That is a game-changer.”